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Vivanco v. California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 1, 2019

MARISOL VIVANCO, Individually and as Successor in Interest to SOLTON VIVANCO GONZALEZ, Plaintiff,



         Currently before the Court is Defendants California Department of Corrections (“CDCR”) and Scott Frauenheim's (“Warden Frauenheim” and collectively “Defendants”) motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 filed on March 1, 2019. (Doc. No. 35.) Plaintiff Marisol Vivanco, Individually and as Successor in Interest to Solton Vivanco Gonzalez, (“Plaintiff”) filed her opposition on April 12, 2019. (Doc. No. 36.) Defendants filed a reply on April 26, 2019. (Doc. No. 43.)

         On June 7, 2019, a hearing on the motion was held before the Honorable Barbara A. McAuliffe, United States Magistrate Judge.[1] Counsel Jesse Ortiz appeared by telephone on behalf of Plaintiff. Counsel Preeti Bajwa and Yevgeniy Parkman appeared in person on behalf of Defendants. (Doc. No. 45.) Having considered the record and the parties' briefing and oral arguments, the Court grants Defendants' motion for summary judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This action concerns Plaintiff's claims related to the death of her son, decedent Solton Vivanco Gonzalez (“Mr. Gonzalez”), who committed suicide by hanging while he was incarcerated at Pleasant Valley State Prison (“PVSP”) and in the custody of CDCR. (See Doc. No. 1.) Plaintiff originally filed her complaint on December 20, 2016, in the Superior Court of California for the County of Fresno, asserting claims against CDCR, Warden Frauenheim, and Does 1-50 for violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and for wrongful death under and California Code of Civil Procedure § 377.60. (Doc. No. 1 at Ex. A.) Defendants removed the action to this Court on March 23, 2017. (Doc. No. 1.) Following the Court's orders on two motions to dismiss filed by Defendants, the action proceeded on Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference and failure to supervise claims, Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process claims against Warden Frauenheim in his individual capacity and various Doe defendants, and Plaintiff's state law claim for wrongful death against CDCR and various Doe defendants. (Doc. Nos. 2, 4, 9, 11, 21.)

         Plaintiff's operative complaint alleged that PVSP staff ridiculed and mistreated Mr. Gonzalez, a mentally ill inmate, while he was housed in a short-term restricted housing unit, failed to adequately monitor his welfare, did not intervene when observing Mr. Gonzalez braiding his sheet shortly before he hung himself, did not provide him with psychiatric medication, and laughed at his suicidal ideations. (Doc. No. 11 at ¶¶ 17-34.) Plaintiff further alleged that Warden Frauenheim failed to implement policies regarding the placement of mentally ill inmates in short-term restricted housing as required by Coleman v. Newsom, No. 2:90-cv-00520-KJM-DAD (“Coleman”). (Id. at ¶¶ 35-39.)


         Unless otherwise noted, the facts set forth below are uncontroverted.[2]As necessary, the Court discusses further factual details in its analysis. The parties' legal conclusions, arguments, and assertions are not considered facts.

         On August 29, 2014, the Court in Coleman issued an order authorizing mentally ill inmates to be housed in short-term restricted housing units. (SUF No. 1.) As a result of Coleman, PVSP implemented policies and procedures regulating the placement and retention of mentally ill inmates in short-term restricted housing units. (SUF Nos. 2, 3.)

         Mr. Gonzalez, an inmate in the custody of CDCR, was receiving mental health services for depression while incarcerated at PVSP and reported that he first began taking medication for depression at age sixteen. (Decl. of Jesse Ortiz, Ex. A at ¶ 364-369, 373, 407, 413-428.) A mental health evaluation dated June 18, 2015, performed while Mr. Gonzalez was housed at Deuel Vocational Institute prior to being transferred to PVSP, noted that Mr. Gonzalez reported a “history of sleep challenges and depression without medication.” (Id. at AG 404-414.) A suicide risk evaluation dated September 28, 2015, indicated that Mr. Gonzalez had a history of chronic mental illness and suicide attempts in which he drank bleach in 2012 and attempted to jump in front of a truck in 2014. (Id. at AG 399-401.)

         Mr. Gonzalez was moved to the short-term restricted housing unit on January 8, 2016, based on an indecent exposure allegation. (SUF No. 3.) On January 14, 2016, Warden Frauenheim chaired a classification committee, which included CDCR psychologists Drs. Lee and Dehnavifar, and which was tasked with determining Mr. Gonzalez' continued retention in the short-term restricted housing unit. (SUF No. 5.) Drs. Lee and Dehnavifar evaluated Mr. Gonzalez' mental health before this committee hearing and determined that retaining him in the short-term restricted housing unit did not place him at substantial risk of serious harm. (SUF No. 6.) Based on these evaluations and opinions, the committee voted to retain Mr. Gonzalez in the short-term restricted housing unit. (SUF No. 7.)

         On January 13, 2016, while housed in the short-term restricted housing unit in PVSP, Mr. Gonzalez met with CDCR mental health staff and “asked about taking psych meds.” (Decl. of Jesse Ortiz, Ex. A at ¶ 426.) Mr. Gonzalez received mental health services from Dr. Lee but stated during his session that “he would be fine without [medications] for the time being” and was not prescribed any psychiatric medications. On January 19, 2016, Mr. Gonzalez reported some increase in his depression since being placed in short-term restricted housing. (Id. at AG 421.) On January 20, 2016, CDCR psychiatrist Dr. Kuo discussed psychiatric medications with Mr. Gonzalez and noted that he was “[r]elatively stable” without them. (Id. at AG420.) The same day, CDCR staff described Mr. Gonzalez' status as being managed well, and Mr. Gonzalez further reported feeling better without medication. ( AG 355.) Mr. Gonzalez denied experiencing any significant mental health concerns or symptoms and stated he felt he was adjusting well to short-term restricted housing. (Id.)

         Dr. Lee performed a cell front check on Mr. Gonzalez at 1:00 p.m. on January 26, 2016. (Decl. of Jesse Ortiz, Ex. A at ¶ 415.) Mr. Gonzalez reported feeling depressed and that he likely would not go to group therapy and further expressed interest in medication. (Id.) Mr. Gonzalez appeared to be experiencing increased depressive symptoms, was sleeping at odd hours, and had stopped coming out of his cell for therapy sessions. (Id.) Dr. Lee's notes further indicate that Mr. Gonzalez was not prescribed medication at that time but agreed to meet out of cell to discuss medication options the following week. (Id.) Mr. Gonzalez denied any other significant mental health concerns or symptoms and “did not exhibit sign[s] of any thoughts or behaviors related to harming [him]self or others” at the time he and Dr. Lee met. (Id.) Mr. Gonzalez was described as being cooperative, made good eye contact, responded willingly and appropriately to questions, was alert, oriented, and smiled at appropriate times, his emotional presentation was congruent with context and theme, he exhibited good concentration skills, and gave no signs of delusional activity, ideas of reference, or hallucinations. (Id.)

         Mr. Gonzalez was found hanging in his cell at approximately 7:35 p.m. on January 27, 2016. (Decl. of Jesse Ortiz, Ex. A at ¶ 190-191.) He suffered anoxic brain injury as a result of the hanging and died from his injuries on January 29, 2016. (Id.)


         Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings, disclosure materials, discovery, and any affidavits provided establish that “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A material fact is one that may affect the outcome of the case under the applicable law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable [trier of fact] could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. Summary judgment must be entered, “after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317');">477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

         The party seeking summary judgment “always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex, 477 U.S. 3 at 323. The exact nature of this responsibility, however, varies depending on whether the issue on which summary judgment is sought is one in which the movant or the nonmoving party carries the ultimate burden of proof. See Soremekun v. Thrifty Payless, Inc., 509 F.3d 978, 984 (9th Cir. 2007). If the movant will have the burden of proof at trial, it must “affirmatively demonstrate that no reasonable trier of fact could find other than for the moving party.” Id. (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323). In contrast, if the nonmoving party will have the burden of proof at trial, “the movant can prevail merely by pointing out that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Id.

         If the movant satisfies its initial burden, the nonmoving party must go beyond the allegations in its pleadings to “show a genuine issue of material fact by presenting affirmative evidence from which a jury could find in [its] favor.” FTC v. Stefanchik, 559 F.3d 924, 929 (9th Cir. 2009) (emphasis in original). “[B]ald assertions or a mere scintilla of evidence” will not suffice in this regard. Id. at 929; see also Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986) (“When the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56[], its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.”) (citation omitted). “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of ...

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